In the past, I've frequently raised the question when speaking at funeral services, "Does the deceased (we'll call him Joe) still exist?" That is, does Joe still possess consciousness of heart, mind, and awareness of being? Or did the cessation of physical brain activity and heartbeat put an end to Joe? (other than the old aphorism, "Well, Joe will live on in our memories and hearts" - nice for us, maybe, but it doesn't do much for Joe!).
Recently, I've added another question to the consideration: "Did Joe ever exist?" That is, did Joe exist according to the normal understanding and perception of personal reality whereby all human beings define the sensibilities of "I am", "you are", "he is", or "we are". Was Joe more than merely matter?
The naturalist must answer, "No, Joe never existed as more than matter. He was the product of an unconscious evolutionary process that united trillions of 'Joe atoms' during a relatively brief span of life, resulting in a temporary physical structure composed of form and force. Electrical impulses dancing through the structure of Joe's brain resulted in a facsimile of 'consciousness'. This awareness of himself, others, and the universe, however, was actually part of the physical system of reality of which Joe was temporarily a part. No matter how it appeared, that's all there was to Joe." This, the honest naturalist must confess as his understanding of Joe, who according to this view, existed as a thing rather than a person.
Conversely, supernaturalists believe that a part of Joe - the very heart of Joe - actually existed (and still exists) as a being who transcended matter. They maintain that a trans-atomic reality exists and serves as the source and sustenance of material realities. The Bible refers to such "substance" as spirit, or that which exists apart from the materialistic structure of the universe. The Lord Jesus Christ declared that "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24). Scripture also defines humanity in terms of the spiritual, adding also that other spiritual beings exist, known as angels (I Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 1:14). Atoms do not compose the spiritual aspect of such beings, who rather find and perceive their existence in context of that which perhaps cannot be explained, but which can be - and is - intuitively realized. Those who hold to this view of Joe readily affirm his existence in these spiritual terms. The spirit of Joe was, is, and will always be.
The supernaturalist comfortably resides with this common understanding of personhood, namely, of a consciousness that includes freedom, thought (consisting of more than mere electrical brain impulses), self awareness, and moral sensibility. The naturalist, however, finds himself trapped in an unavoidable conundrum. He lives life as if he and others are more than matter. He thinks, emotes, relates, decides, and views his existence in an awareness that he innately perceives as transcendently spiritual, moral, and relational. He views himself and others in personal terms. He makes choices that seem real and freely determined. He bears some form of moral compass within his thoughts and emotional sensibilities. And he feels for all the world like something more than merely the matter of the world in which he finds himself. He knows he exists, but he believes a mindless universe led to his existence and his knowledge thereof. The naturalist cannot escape this reality pressed upon him by the nature of both things and the intuitive realities that transcend things. Intellectually, however, his thoughts and manic devotion to materialism drive him to the conundrum and its discomfort. Little wonder materialists so often seem distressed and unhappy!
Joe was more than matter. He is more than matter. His spirit lives on, either joyfully in the presence of the Lord Jesus who redeemed him by grace through faith, or unhappily because he rejected this freest of all gifts and most Divinely revealed of all truths. Does Joe still exist? Absolutely! Did he ever exist? The answer seems so obvious as to require no mention, both to the naturalist and the supernaturalist. Indeed, despite stated denial of the truth by some, every human being knows that he is something more, much more, than matter. Moreover, he knows that somebody made him, Somebody much more than matter. Believers can thus be confident as we declare to all the unavoidable facts of an existence that constantly bears witness to the source and sustenance of our being, of our eternal being.
"I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him."
"In Him, we live and move and have our being."
Weekly Memory Verse
By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.